You have a job opening. You want to hire a recent college graduate to fill it. You start strong, putting together a comprehensive job description and a nice list of qualifications. 

It works. Plenty of candidates apply. 

So far, so good. But you also have a problem. Plenty of candidates means plenty of decisions to make. So you do what tons of companies do. You get lazy and sort by school: After all, "name" schools produce the best graduates, right?

Wrong. Which means you miss out on countless talented candidates -- especially those from underrepresented backgrounds and demographics. (Duke, for example, is a great school, but Duke tuition is also out of reach for most.)

So how do you compare the skills of recent college graduates when many haven't had a chance to demonstrate those skills?

That's a real problem, one Jeffrey Moss, the founder and CEO of Parker Dewey, set ouf to solve with micro-internships.

Unlike a traditional internship, a micro-internship is like a freelance project: The average one ranges from five to 40 hours of work with a timeline of a week to a month. The model basically layers the gig economy into hiring and recruiting, not only broadening the pool of candidates but giving companies a way to evaluate the skills, reliability, and work ethic of potential full-time employees. 

All of which I can relate to, especially as a potential "employee": When I started my writing career, I had no credentials, no proven background. All I had was a willingness to work hard and prove myself.

Which is exactly what you need from your employees. 

Haden: A common assumption is that academic pedigree equals professional potential.

Moss: I was guilty of that same thing. When I worked in venture capital, I only interviewed kids who went to Stanford, Harvard, University of Chicago -- and a large percentage of them didn't work out. Skills weren't a problem. Many had a sense of entitlement, or didn't have the work ethic, or were the wrong fit.

We hired people from top schools and less prestigious ones, and there was zero causal relationship in terms of major, your GPA, school, family connections, etc.

Except where some of the kids from "average" schools were concerned. How they even got to go to college was incredible. That meant many were smart, hard working, and persistent. 

Getting into a great college is definitely an accomplishment, but ultimately every company needs a doer of things that need to get done.

Plus, if you sift through surveys of what employers want the most, of the top 10 skills, eight have nothing to do with technical skills. Problem solving, grit, attention to detail, fit -- relying on academic pedigree makes the process of identifying those skills incredibly inefficient.

Which is where the emergence of the gig economy comes in. The acceptance of skill arbitrage created an entirely different opportunity, one that I quit my job to try to figure out.

Except on a site like Upwork, a project is a transaction: money for work.

There's nothing wrong with that. But that's also 100 percent of the value proposition. As a freelancer, my goal is to get work done as quickly as possible for as high a fee as possible.

The company has a similar value proposition. But there can be an ancillary benefit for both: Instead of people completing a project "just" for the money, it can also be a paid audition.

Which means, from the student's perspective, they not only get to gain skills, gain accomplishments, and earn money, they also get to prove themselves to potential employers.

Which can also happen on the gig sites, but that can come at considerable cost. 

Before I started Parker Dewey, we looked at the gig economy and realized Upwork's model disincentivizes hiring. Gig sites charge a non-disintermediation fee. If I met you through Upwork, Upwork charges me 25 percent of your first year's salary.

The same is true for staffing firms. They charge 25, 30 percent of the first year's salary, which also disincentivizes hiring. 

For this model to work, companies need an incentive to hire.

So, say IBM hires you to complete a project. We get 10 percent of the project cost. If IBM posts a market analysis project that will take 25 hours for $500, we list the project at $450. 

IF someone is interested, they apply. If they're not, they don't. IBM works directly with the student for the duration of the project. We just handle payment and processing. There are no other fees.

And if IBM decides to hire that person full time, great. That's what we hope will happen. 

So in "pitching to a VC" terms, you're solving the skills assessment, fit, etc. problem for graduates and companies. 

And what's funny is that, while the original point of pain was for less prestigious schools and their students, we have a great partnership with the University of Chicago, a school I definitely didn't have in mind. They already have, for all intents and purposes, a 100 percent placement rate for students. But when we spent time with their career services professionals, a couple of things were interesting.

One, as they continue to bring in students from less traditional backgrounds, to bring in first-generation college students, those individuals don't have the same context as the traditional student. They don't have the same contacts or the same professional experience. They don't necessarily stand out. So how can U of C better prepare them for the job search? 

Another benefit is career exploration. I have a degree in accounting and finance. In the mid-'90s, I did an internship with an accounting firm, and after the first week I knew I didn't want to be an accountant.

But later I got an offer from them and didn't want to take it -- yet I only had one data point for one thing I felt I didn't want to do. (Laughs.)

Many college students have almost zero opportunity for exploration. So they all have the same problem: Do they go big company or small, marketing or sales, tech versus content versus brand management? Micro-internships give them an opportunity to dabble in the real world, not in a class project.

Best case, a student will do 10 or 20 or 30 micro-internships while they're in college so they can home in on their passion and develop a portfolio that demonstrates complexity and competency.

Which makes a job interview, and especially a behavioral interview, a lot easier -- because that means I have plenty of accomplishments to talk about. 

And that helps a candidate not only convey their skills but also demonstrate why they're confident the job is the right role for them, which means they're much less likely to leave after six months.  

With you or me, anyone can look at our LinkedIn profiles and look at our CVs and determine whether we have the skills, the fit, etc. And then can dig in through behavioral interviewing to really understand whether we're right for the job.

With recent grads, companies have to rely on pedigree. And perceived attitude. 

But when college graduates have micro-internships on their résumé, hiring managers can scroll down and see real-world projects and real-world accomplishments, and that totally changes the interview conversation.

Which benefits both the graduates and hiring companies. 

And also makes it less necessary for companies to make college recruiting visits.

For kids from smaller, less prestigious schools, it creates an open platform. And for startups.

Say you have a startup. You're emerging, you're relatively high risk, so you're not likely to land a Kellogg graduate. Or you're a big company, and you already have a strong recruiting presence at UVA or Stanford or Penn, so you're unlikely to send a team to a smaller school.

Or say you're a firm known for one thing, but you need other skills. JPMorgan is a top place for finance students to go, but they also have incredibly interesting financial technologies. They may have even more jobs than Google or Amazon, but they can't get in front of those kids.

Micro-internships are a perfect way to connect with the kids with the skills they need -- and for kids to connect with companies that may not otherwise ever meet them.

Hiring is all about matching talent with need. If I have talent, I need a way to show it.

If I need talent, I need a way to find it.

Those are the problems we're working hard to solve.

Published on: Jul 8, 2019
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